We had the great opportunity to interview Lynda Cmara, a paralegal at the law firm Johnson, Dowe, Brown & Barbarotta in Windsor, Connecticut and President of the New Haven County Association of Paralegals. Lynda shared career advice for new paralegals and the most important thing that she learned in college.
Why did you decide to become a paralegal?
I was working in real estate department of a major New England bank when I started looking into becoming a paralegal. It was during a time when banks were either failing or merging and I wanted a career path that would provide more stable employment opportunities. I was also considering relocation to Oregon and I thought being a paralegal would be a great choice. The skills possessed by a paralegal could be easily transferred no matter what part of the country I worked in.
Are there any specific education requirements for becoming a paralegal in the State of Connecticut?
Although Connecticut has no specific educational requirements at this time, most employers look for the following criteria:
- A bachelor's degree in an ABA accredited legal studies program;
- An associate's degree in an ABA accredited legal studies program;
- Either an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in another field plus a
- Paralegal certificate from an ABA accredited program; OR
- Experience, experience, experience.
The three Connecticut Paralegal Associations affiliated with the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc., also known as NFPA are in favor of some type of regulation for paralegals within the state, of which, education will be a key component.
What do you enjoy most about working as a paralegal?
In any job I have had in my career, I have always enjoyed the client contact the most. I currently work for an awesome small firm in the next town over from where I live. The most enjoyable aspect of my job is building client relationships and watching that relationship grow over the years.
I love being able to share in the joyous events of our clients' lives, as well as helping them with their legal issues and being there to support them in the more trying times that life can bestow upon us.
What did you learn in school that helped you most in your career?
My educational path was a little different than most. I got my associate's degree in 1978, my paralegal certificate in 1996 and my bachelor's degree in 2002. The best part of my education was that time spent earning my bachelor's degree. When you pay for your education out of your own funds, you tend to work harder and have a better appreciation for what you have accomplished.
The biggest gift I received during the time I was going to school for the bachelor's was the gift of confidence. I was working full-time, going to school part time and trying to keep my GPA high enough to graduate with honors. I did all that and know I still have a lot more to do out there.
School taught me how to analyze, research, and write but finishing and walking out with that feeling like you can conquer anything you set out to is………priceless. Of course this came from being pushed by an amazing group of professors, some of whom I have the pleasure of continuing to have contact with.
What advice would you give to paralegals who are just starting their careers or are set to graduate with a paralegal degree?
A. Once you graduate, don't walk away from your college. Keep in touch with fellow students and professors – they can be a great resource for you and a continued source of inspiration.
B. Join your local paralegal association! Your local paralegal association is filled with a wealth of experienced paralegals who can answer a question, provide you with guidance and are part of a fabulous group who support each other and give back to the community.
C. Network, network, network. They say you don't get a job from what you know but by who you know. The happiest paralegals I know are the ones that got those jobs, not by answering a “job posting” but by being recommended by a friend, professor or classmate.
You may read this and think that it seems basic and simple, but if you believe – then it can be. And how do we get all of the above done – it's amazing how much you can get done and how great you will feel – just shut off the TV!!!!